For several months Native American protesters and others have been opposing the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plans for construction pass through sacred land for the Native American tribe, Standing Rock Sioux.
But, within days of taking office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum supporting the construction of the pipeline. Recently a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction on the final link of the project.
On Wednesday, however, the protesters appeared to have received support from none other than Pope Francis, a long-time defender of indigenous people’s rights. The pope said indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” He added,
“Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”
As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religious studies, I am often asked what Native American leaders mean when they say that certain landscapes are “sacred places” or “sacred sites.”
What makes a mountain, hill or prairie a “sacred” place?
I learned from my grandparents about the sacred areas within Blackfeet tribal territory in Montana and Alberta, which is not far from Lakota tribal territory in the Dakotas.
My grandparents said that sacred areas are places set aside from human presence. They identified two overarching types of sacred place: those set aside for the divine, such as a dwelling place, and those set aside for human remembrance, such as a burial or battle site.
In my forthcoming book “Invisible Reality,” I contemplate those stories that my grandparents shared about Blackfeet religious concepts and the interconnectedness of the supernatural and natural realms.
My grandparents’ stories revealed that the Blackfeet believe in a universe where supernatural beings exist within the same time and space as humans and our natural world. The deities could simultaneously exist in both as visible and invisible reality. That is, they could live unseen, but known, within a physical place visible to humans.
One such place for the Blackfeet is Nínaiistáko, or Chief Mountain, in Glacier National Park. This mountain is the home of Ksiistsikomm, or Thunder, a primordial deity. My grandparents spoke of how this mountain is a liminal space, a place between two realms.
Blackfeet tribal citizens can go near this sacred place to perceive the divine, but they cannot go onto the mountain because it is the home of a deity. Elders of the Blackfeet tribe believe that human activity, or changing the physical landscape in these places, disrupts the lives of deities. They view this as sacrilegious and a desecration.
Sacred places, however, are not always set aside from humanity’s use. Some sacred places are meant for constant human interaction.
Anthropologist Keith Basso argued in his seminal work “Wisdom Sits in Places” that one purpose of sacred places was to perfect the human mind. The Western Apache elders with whom Basso worked told him that when someone repeated the names and stories of their sacred places, they were understood as “repeating the speech of our ancestors.”
For these Apache elders, places were not just names and stories – their landscape itself was a living sacred text. As these elders traveled from place to place speaking the names and stories of their sacred text, they told Basso that their minds became more “resilient,” more “smooth” and able to withstand adversity.
At different national and international venues, Lakota leader Dave Archambault Jr. has stated that the Lakota view the area near the potential construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline as both a “sacred place” and a “burial site,” or as both a place set aside from human presence and a place of human reverence.
Lakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. described the “sacred stones” in North Dakota in his book “The World We Used to Live In” as having the ability of “forewarning of events to come.”
Deloria described how Lakota religious leaders went to these stones in the early morning to read their messages. Deloria shared the experiences of an Episcopal minister from 1919.
“A rock of this kind was formerly on Medicine Hill near Cannon Ball Sub-station…. Old Indians came to me… and said that the lightning would strike someone in camp that day, for a picture (wowapi) on this holy rock indicated such an event…. And the lightning did strike a tent in camp and nearly killed a woman…. I have known several similar things, equally foretelling events to come, I can not account for it.”
Deloria explained that it was “birds, directed by the spirit of the place, [that] do the actual sketching of the pictures.” The Lakota named this area Ínyanwakagapi for the large stones that served as oracles for their people. The Americans renamed it Cannonball.
Historians, anthropologists and religious thinkers continue to learn and write about Native American religious ideas of place. In so doing, they seek to analyze complex religious concepts of transformation and transcendence that these places evoke.
However, despite their contributions to the academic interpretation of religion, these understandings do not often translate into protection of Native American places for their religious significance. As legal scholar Stephen Pevar tells us,
“there is no federal statue that expressly protects Indian sacred sites…. in fact, the federal government knowingly desecrates sites.”
In the past year we have seen protests over the potential desecration of sacred placesat Mauna Kea in Hawaii (over the construction of another telescope on a sacred volcano), Oak Flats in Arizona (over a potential copper mine on sacred land) and now at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
“Religion… will long continue to be a critical factor in individual, social, and political life around the world, and we need to understand it.”
The intimate connection between landscape and religion is at the center of Native American societies. It is the reason that thousands of Native Americans from across the United States and indigenous peoples from around the world have traveled to the windswept prairies of North Dakota.
But, despite our 200-plus years of contact, the United States has yet to begin to understand the uniqueness of Native American religions and ties to the land. And until this happens, there will continue to be conflicts over religious ideas of land and landscape, and what makes a place sacred.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article first published on Nov. 2, 2016.\
Rosalyn R. LaPier is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
A laconic announcement from Russia’s TASS news agency on February 16 said that Belarusian and Russian ministers had “agreed [on] the protocol” for new oil and gas prices. Nothing unusual in that, it would seem. The two countries are after all close allies, and indeed partners in a so-called union state that dates back to 1996.
Except that in the last year, Moscow and Minsk have been engaged in a series of spectacular and increasingly public rows. Russia has cut crude-oil exports to Belarus and demanded that Belarus pay a higher price for its gas. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. The Russians have also said they are setting up new security zones on the two countries’ common border and that the Federal Security Service (or FSB, the domestic successor to the Soviet-era KGB) will monitor the frontier. This is in response to Belarus’s decision to offer free visas to citizens of 80 countries, including many Western nations that are imposing sanctions on Russia. Since the Western sanctions regime on Russia was instituted in 2014, Belarus has profited from being an entrepôt for European goods that are formally banned in Russia.
Belarus needs the money. An unprecedented series of street protests in several towns over the weekend of February 18–19, inspired by socioeconomic grievances, suggests that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko knows his regime needs to keep adapting if it is not to crumble.
Lukashenko may still look and sound like the rough-cut collective-farm director that he once was, but he should not be underestimated. Having been in power since 1994, he has become Europe’s ultimate survivor and deal maker. He tries to keep his options open with the EU while not allowing Russia to take him for granted.
Occasionally, Moscow must be reprimanded. In an extraordinary seven-hour press conference on February 3, Lukashenko repeatedly lashed out at Russia and growled, “Why grab us by the throat?” As Artyom Shraibman noted recently for Carnegie.ru, a central message of the marathon performance was the claim—made by naive or pretend-naive Russians for centuries—that Russia is run by a good czar and bad advisers. Lukashenko castigated Russian ministers and Kremlin advisers for the failing relationship between the two countries while conspicuously absolving Russian President Vladimir Putin of any blame. If that was the tactic, then the announcement of a forthcoming oil-and-gas deal indicates it may have worked.
There has been some rather fevered speculation that Belarus could be the next Ukraine as Lukashenko lurches toward the West and Putin moves to crush him. This is completely far-fetched. Lukashenko’s authoritarian model gives him no real traction with the West and will always keep his regime closer to Putin’s Russia. But, as he told journalists, he does not believe in “flying on one wing.”
The Belarusian leader’s calculated acts of disloyalty to Moscow and assertions of independence—as well as gestures such as the visa announcement or the freeing of political prisoners—give him some leverage with the European Union. That becomes a more urgent priority as the once-resilient Belarusian economy has begun to decline. GDP fell by 3.9 percent in 2015 and by 2.6 percent in 2016, causing the discontent that now manifests itself, at a low level thus far, on the streets.
Lukashenko’s balancing act—you could call it giving himself elbow room—is made easier by the unprecedented goings-on in Washington and the complete confusion emanating from the White House as to what currently constitutes U.S. foreign policy.
In his press conference, Lukashenko compared himself with the U.S. president, with whose authoritarian populist style he evidently feels an affinity. In one of the more Trumpian passages, Lukashenko mused, “Yes, [U.S. President Donald Trump] is inexperienced. Yes, he should be a bit calmer, but that’s just how it looks from here. . . . I went through all that myself, as a man who rose from outside the elite. But he has lots of clever people around him! Eighty percent of them are Jews, and you won’t say that they are stupid.”
Lukashenko is not the only one playing this game. Perhaps he was encouraged by the way Czech President Miloš Zeman, who shares Trump’s hostility to refugees and Muslim migrants, was rewarded with a friendly telephone call and an invitation to the White House. In the ring of countries that are neighbors of Russia but not members of NATO or the EU, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Moldova play the same balancing game in different ways. It is probably no coincidence that Lukashenko’s relations with Azerbaijan have warmed in recent times, to the detriment of ties with Armenia.
A few days after Lukashenko’s press conference, Alexander Lapshin, a blogger who was extradited from Belarus to Azerbaijan, was charged with having illegally reported from the Armenian-controlled territory of Nagorny Karabakh, which is de jure part of Azerbaijan. The extradition was for an offense that would normally have occasioned at most a denial of a journalist’s visa to Azerbaijan for having visited a separatist territory without permission from Baku. The high-profile extradition, broadcast on television, was met with fury from Armenia and angry words from Russia, whose citizen Lapshin is (as well as less audible discomfort from Azerbaijani ally Israel, whose citizenship Lapshin also holds).
Russia will not suffer from this row, but Lukashenko’s favoring of Azerbaijan over Armenia shows his lack of interest in the supposed solidarity of nations in the Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Armenia, but not Azerbaijan, is a member.
This is the geopolitics of every man for himself, exacerbated by Trump’s takeover of the White House, which hurts not only the West’s alliances but Russia’s as well.
Carnegie Europe was on the ground at the 2017 Munich Security Conference, offering readers exclusive access to the debates as they unfolded and providing insights on today’s most urgent international issues. Check out our live coverage here.
The 2017 Munich Security Conference, which ended on February 19, exposed a divided West, a United States led by a new administration that wants to put America first, and a European Union facing one of its most important elections for decades.
For good or bad, this is going to be America’s year and France’s year. How the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump deals with Europe, Russia, Iran, and China will have profound implications for global stability. Whom French voters elect as their country’s next president in May will determine the future of the EU.
Despite attempts in Munich by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence to reassure the United States’ European allies that the transatlantic bonds are unbreakable, they are not the ones who make the decisions in Washington. The occupant of the White House is. Meanwhile, Europe’s future hangs in the balance.
With such uncertainty and unpredictability facing Europe, the United States, and the Western liberal order, here are five takeaways from the Munich Security Conference.
The first is that Europeans—as if they didn’t get enough warning from the team of U.S. senators who attended the event—have to accept that like-minded Americans who care for Europe are now going to be preoccupied with dealing with the Trump administration. From foreign policy—China, Iran, multilateral institutions, and trade—to domestic policy, Americans who believe deeply in the transatlantic relationship will be fighting for their corner in the U.S. Congress. They will be distracted from Europe’s problems.
The second takeaway is that Europeans are facing a U.S. administration that doesn’t take multilateral institutions—and that includes the EU—or multilateral trade deals seriously. Over the past few days in Munich, the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the EU hardly got a look-in from the U.S. administration. Bilateralism and unilateralism seem to be taking precedence over multilateralism.
Germany and other EU countries are very worried about this. These building blocks of the post-1945 security and economic architecture were designed to consolidate the West and provide rules, decent standards of trade, and, particularly, predictability.
The Trump administration hasn’t yet given these institutions notice. But Americans and Europeans who have worked together over the decades greatly fear that it’s only a matter of time until he does. A rules-based West centered on multilateral institutions is no longer a given. Countries that violate the territorial integrity of others may see this as an opportunity to test the vigor and unity of the West.
This leads to the third takeaway: Russia. It figured a great deal at the conference, not least because of its continuing occupation of and meddling in Ukraine, its role in Syria, and its dissemination of fake news and disinformation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to keep the EU together on rolling over sanctions on Russia when they come up for renewal later in 2017. In Munich, she had to defend the Minsk agreement reached in early 2015 to stabilize eastern Ukraine and develop some kind of road map that would lead to a political solution.
And while U.S. officials said they supported the accord and the upholding of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, it is still unclear what Trump thinks of the agreement and what kind of relationship he wants with Russia. This is bound to be a bone of contention between several EU countries and the United States if Trump wants to push a reset button with Moscow. One thing is certain: Republican and Democratic U.S. senators will put up a fight to counter moves to end the sanctions or weaken U.S. support for Ukraine.
The fourth takeaway is a twist in the relationship between the United States and Europe. The U.S. senators attending the Munich Security Conference asked their European interlocutors to stick with America. What a turnaround in perceptions! While officials from the U.S. administration harangued Washington’s Europeans allies, especially over spending more on defense, nonadministration officials wanted the Europeans to stand firm with the United States. And they wanted a strong EU, not a European continent made up of individual states with no union to anchor themselves to.
The final takeaway has to do with the EU’s future. That future rests with the people of France. Whatever the outcome of the country’s presidential election in May, it will have major consequences for Europe. If the leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, is elected president, it will usher in the end of the EU, an organization that Trump has little time for. If one of her contenders, the young and untested Emmanuel Macron, wins, it would provide an extraordinary opportunity for a revitalized Franco-German relationship, with everything that implies: a new energy for the EU and even for the West.
These are the stakes facing Atlanticists and their like-minded allies.
Swedes are befuddled and bemused by President Donald Trump’s remarks over the weekend suggesting an immigrant-related attack in Sweden, a country famous for its low crime rate.
“You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Trump told a large crowd of supporters in a hangar at the Orlando-Melbourne International Airport on Saturday. “Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden,” he added. “They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
Sweden has admitted almost 200,000 refugees, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn countries, in response to Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis. It has more refugees per capita than any other European nation. While Europe is hotly debating how best to adjust its policies to address poverty and crime rates among immigrants, no event happened the night before Trump spoke to the crowds as the Saturday “Make America Great” rally.
On Sunday, Trump came to his own defense, tweeting that he based his comment on a Fox news report. He neither apologized nor acknowledged the fact that the event never took place. The Swedish embassy in the United States responded that it looked “forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.”
In the latest of a number of similarly misinformed announcements, it seemed that Trump’s source was the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which claimed the government was attempting to cover up the link between Sweden’s immigration policy and an alleged rise in crime.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders attempted to backtrack the gaffe on Sunday by saying that Trump was “talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, and not referring to a specific incident.”
Sanders added that the president had been “referring to a report he had seen the previous night.”
“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter.
Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-sweden-terror-lie_us_58a8f397e4b045cd34c263d3 …
Donald Trump Appears To Make Up Sweden Terror Attack
It didn't happen.huffingtonpost.com
Since the incident, Sweden’s hashtag #lastnightinsweden has been blowing up, replete with IKEA memes.
Ride-sharing company Uber has said it will conduct an “urgent investigation” into claims of sexual harassment at the company.
A blog post written by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler detailed a litany of instances during her time at the firm.
"What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in,” Uber boss Travis Kalanick said in a statement.
“Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”
The controversy is just the latest to surround the company, particularly on issues around the treatment of women at the firm.
Ms Fowler wrote that shortly after joining the San Francisco-based company, her new manager made sexual advances towards her.
She wrote: "He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with.”
After reporting the incident to Human Resources, Ms Fowler said she was told no further action would be taken as it was a “first offense”. She said she was told she should try and join an alternative team at the company.
From here, she goes on to list several instances where she felt poorly treated. She cites data - which the BBC has been unable to verify - that the number of female engineers at the company has plummeted over the past year.
Unlike Google, Apple, Facebook and others, Uber chooses not to disclose figures about diversity at the company.
On Sunday evening, Mr Kalanick responded to the allegations.
"I have just read Susan Fowler's blog.
"It's the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey, our new Chief Human Resources Officer, to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations.
"We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber.”
The BBC has reached out to several high-profile Uber investors for comment.
Posting on Twitter, Jason Calacanis - an early investor in the firm - wrote: "What she [Ms Fowler] describes is obviously not acceptable. Trust management will take swift action."
The row is bringing concerns over sexism in Silicon Valley once again to the fore - with Ms Fowler's blog post provoking a sense of deja vu for many in the industry.
While Ms Fowler's post was about Uber, several noted on Sunday that her experiences were instantly recognisable to other women working for firms in Silicon Valley and the wider technology industry.
That said, some of the anecdotes detailed in Ms Fowler's 3,000-word post range from the shocking to the farcical.
After making the initial complaint about her manager, she said she was threatened with getting negative performance review scores - making it harder to gain promotions or transfers with in the company.
She said she was chastised for keeping email evidence of her complaints.
One of the more bizarre instances involved leather jackets. Ms Fowler described how the team she was on had been promised leather jackets as a thank you for their work, and the team was measured up for the right sizes.
Ms Fowler wrote: "One day, all of the women (there were, I believe, six of us left in the org) received an email saying that no leather jackets were being ordered for the women because there were not enough women in the organisation to justify placing an order.
"I replied and said that I was sure Uber could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men.
"The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realise we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets."
Since being founded in 2009, Uber has gained a reputation as a company that espouses Silicon Valley's so-called "bro" culture of male-dominated, macho work environments.
That view was exacerbated three years ago when Mr Kalanick quipped, in an interview with GQ Magazine, that an on-demand service for women might be called "Boober".
In 2014, Buzzfeed reported that Uber executive Emil Michael had suggested the firm would spend money on digging up dirt on Sarah Lacy, a technology journalist who accused the firm of being misogynistic.
This latest, most detailed critique of the company's working culture is perhaps the most damaging yet.
"When I joined Uber, the organisation I was part of was over 25% women," Ms Fowler wrote.
"By the time I was trying to transfer to another [engineering] organisation, this number had dropped down to less than 6%.
"Women were transferring out of the organisation, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit."
She now works at payments company Stripe, also based in San Francisco.
Angelina Jolie has spoken about how Cambodia was her "awakening", as she premiered her new film in the country.
The actress was speaking exclusively to the BBC before the screening of First They Killed My Father, a true-life account of the Khmer Rouge genocide through the eyes of a child.
She said she hoped the film, which she directed, would help Cambodians to speak more openly about the trauma of the period.
Two million people died.
Jolie, now a UN refugee agency special envoy, first visited Cambodia for the filming of 2001 hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
She later adopted Maddox, her oldest son, from Cambodia.
"I came to this country and I fell in love with its people and learned its history, and in doing so learned, how little I actually knew about the world," she told the BBC's Yalda Hakim.
"This country, for me was my awakening.
"I'll always be very grateful to this country. I don't think I ever could give back as much as this country has given me."
First They Killed My Father is based on a book of the same name by Loung Ung.
Ms Ung was five when she and her family were forced to leave their home in the capital, Phnom Penh, by the Khmer Rouge, the regime which ran the country between 1975 and 1979, under Pol Pot.
It is estimated that about two million people, around a quarter of the population, were either murdered by the regime or died from starvation and overwork.
"I thought that this war that happened 40 years ago, and what happened to these people, was not properly understood," said Jolie.
The film is predominantly in the local Khmer language, and Jolie said that while she wanted the wider world to better understand events in Cambodia she hoped it would have an impact domestically too.
"I hope it helps the country speak more," she said, as many survivors "haven't told their children their story".
The film, made by Netflix, was given its world premiere on Saturday inside the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap, where Tomb Raider was partly filmed.
Among those present alongside Jolie and her six children was Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni, who in 2005 granted the actress Cambodian citizenship for the work done by an environmental foundation she established in the country.
The premiere was the first major public appearance for Jolie since she filed for divorce from Brad Pitt in September last year, citing irreconcilable differences.
The couple had been together since 2004 but only married in August 2014.
"It was very difficult," Jolie said. "Many people find themselves in this situation. My whole family have all been through a difficult time. My focus is my children, our children.
"We are and forever will be a family and so that is how I am coping. I am coping with finding a way through to make sure that this somehow makes us stronger and closer."
Jolie recently wrote a piece for the New York Times in response to US President Donald Trump's immigration ban, calling for her homeland to make decisions based on fact rather than fear.
She was reluctant to talk specifically about Mr Trump but said: "The American people are bigger than any president. I suppose I have faith in my country and in what it is founded on and the values we hold dear.
"I believe that many of the things that we're hearing that we feel are based on a sense of spreading fear or hate or dividing people by race or judgement is un-American.
"At this time I think what is amazing is we are seeing people around the world start to speak out for their civil liberties and rights and what they feel. In America, we are hearing people say 'this is un-American to me, this is unconstitutional to me. And this is who I am'."
Malaysia has stepped up diplomatic measures against North Korea in an escalating row over the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-nam died in mysterious circumstances last week at an airport in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
Police believe he was poisoned.
Malaysia has recalled its ambassador from the North Korean capital Pyongyang and has summoned the North Korean ambassador "to seek an explanation".
Malaysian police say they are now looking for four North Koreans.
Meanwhile a video which apparently shows CCTV footage of the attack on Kim Jong-nam has surfaced and aired on Japanese television.
Despite widespread speculation that North Korea was behind the killing, there has been no definitive evidence and Pyongyang has not issued an official statement yet.
On Friday, North Korean ambassador Kang Chol accused the government in Kuala Lumpur of colluding with "hostile forces", saying that Malaysia had "something to conceal".
South Korea has accused the North of orchestrating the incident, saying on Monday it was evidence of North Korean "terrorism getting bolder".
Malaysia was one of very few countries to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, but this killing has strained ties.
Malaysia has refused to accede to North Korean demands to release Kim's body into their custody without an autopsy.
That apparently prompted the comments on Friday by Pyongyang's ambassador to Malaysia - which provoked an angry response from the Malaysian foreign ministry.
It said his accusation was "baseless", adding that it was their responsibility to conduct an investigation as Kim had died on Malaysian soil.
Malaysian authorities are now waiting for the results of its autopsy. Kang Chol said his country would reject the result as it was done without the presence of its representatives.
Malaysia has also refused to release Kim's body, saying it needs to conduct DNA testing first.
Police are now seeking samples from family members. Kim is believed to have family living in Beijing and Macau.
Malaysian police have said that if there is no claim by next of kin and once they exhaust all avenues for DNA collection, they will hand the body over to the North Korean embassy.
Kim is believed to have been attacked in the Kuala Lumpur airport departure hall on Monday by two women, using some form of chemical.
Fuji TV has aired grainy CCTV footage showing a man resembling Kim Jong-nam approached by a woman at the airport.
Another woman then quickly lunges from behind and wipes his face with a cloth. She is seen wearing a white top emblazoned with the letters "LOL".
The man is then seen seeking assistance from airport staff while gesturing at his face, and is escorted to a room.
Two women, one Indonesian and one Vietnamese, were among the first to be arrested. The Indonesian, named as Siti Aisyah, is said to have told Malaysian police she had been paid to perform what she thought was a prank.
Police have also detained one North Korean suspect, Ri Jong-chol, and said they are looking for four more men, who may have already left the country.
The men have been named as Ri Ji Hyon, 33; Hong Song Hac, 34; O Jong Gil, 55, and Ri Jae Nam, 57.
Kim was the first-born son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.
He was largely estranged from his family, after being passed over for the North Korean leadership in favour of his youngest half-brother.
He went into exile in the early 2000s, spending most of his time in Macau, mainland China and Singapore.
Kim had spoken out in the past against his family's dynastic control of North Korea. In a 2012 book he was quoted as saying he believed his younger half-brother lacked leadership qualities.
But he had also said he was not interested in assuming the leadership himself.
Feb. 16, 2017 If all this is true, the Russians have seen a brilliant plan blow up in their faces.
By George Friedman
As you know, I have been dubious about the Michael Flynn affair. So let’s turn it around and assume that there was a major Russian intelligence operation underway intended to help elect and then control the president of the United States. This would certainly justify the angst in The New York Times, whereas the national security adviser lying to the vice president just doesn’t make the cut. I am trying to imagine the number of times Henry Kissinger lied to Spiro Agnew and Brent Scowcroft lied to Dan Quayle.
Let’s imagine that this was the most audacious intelligence operation imaginable, designed to take control of the United States government. If that’s the case, it has turned into a total fiasco. Flynn, a key recruit, is out of a job. The president, regardless of what he promised, will be under intense scrutiny on all matters Russian. The key to the success of this operation would have been that no one could suspect the American president and his national security adviser were under the control of Russian intelligence. Even if they weren’t Russian assets, enough people now think that they are to render them useless to the Russians. The CIA, National Security Council and FBI have them – and anyone else who was part of this – under constant surveillance. It’s the agencies’ job to find Russian spies regardless of whom those spies might be.
If all of this is true, then the Russians have seen a brilliant plan blow up in their face. The president now may be hesitant to make any concessions to the Russians. All other Americans involved in the conspiracy will be identified and fired at the very least. The Russian intelligence apparatus in the United States and the Moscow directorate dealing with the U.S. will be identified and dismantled as forensics are carried out on the failed operation. A generation of Russian operatives will be suspected by the FSB of having been compromised by the Americans. All of them will be looking for exciting careers in the food service industry – if they are lucky. When an operation of this scope fails, everyone is blamed except the big guy, and who knows what suspicions will fall on him.
Interesting shifts in U.S. policy already have occurred. A few weeks ago, the United States said it did not favor ending sanctions on Russia, something the Russians really wanted. Now there are reports that a Russian intelligence-gathering ship was identified in international waters off the coast of New England. The U.S. also charged the Russians with violating a treaty by deploying a new generation of cruise missiles – a repeat of a charge made in 2014 by the administration of then-President Barack Obama.
It is possible to create a delightful trail of dementia here, but the fact is that I doubt the Russians had any such ambitions. For one thing, the level of scrutiny by U.S. intelligence – and every other intelligence agency in the world – is such that there would be no chance this type of an operation would not be detected. If the Russians were doing anything, they were jerking the American chain with the hope of creating a domestic crisis, something which the Americans excel at. A meeting here, a hacking there, a kind word from President Vladimir Putin about President Donald Trump, and then the Russians could lean back and watch the fun. But trying to control the president of the United States? I really doubt that. What I do believe is that which I have been saying. There was an internal battle in the Trump administration, and some really trivial charges were generated to sink Flynn. U.S. intelligence was delighted to help out since they never liked Flynn, who never liked them.
For the Russians, life returns to grim reality. The price of oil is still well below the minimum needed to maintain Russia’s national budget. There are reports from areas outside Moscow and St. Petersburg that salaries are not being paid, banks are failing or being closed by the government in an attempt to create a sustainable system, and the first indicators of unrest are showing. A newspaper in Vladivostok, for example, has reported small anti-government demonstrations gaining in popularity in a region where oil activities play a large role in the local economy. Last week, five cities in Primorsky region – Ussuriysk, Artyom, Arsenyev, Nakhodka and Vladivostok – saw people participating in “protest walks.” These walks consist of participants circulating in public areas, discussing politics and calling for a cleansing of political ranks. The decline in oil prices is not going away and is playing out its painful hand.
In Syria, the city of Aleppo has been taken, and the Russian government is trying to figure out what comes next, as well as remember why it went there in the first place. Sanctions on Russia are in place, and Ukraine, the site of the last Russian intelligence calamity, remains beyond Russian control. Russia has made a gesture at being a major power. Having made the gesture, it must now figure out how to sustain it.
In my view, the Flynn situation has been blown vastly out of proportion by the media, but the Trump administration did not practice the caution that is required in executing its foreign policy. But the Russians, who undoubtedly were pleased that their intelligence apparatus had subverted the American presidency, now face problems. First, they didn’t subvert the presidency, and if they actually tried, they failed. The blowback to their own intelligence service could be grave. Second, and much more important, it is now time for the Russians to turn their attention to the far less pleasant task of surviving the oil crisis and dealing with limits on their power. There is something neat in being regarded as intelligence geniuses when you actually didn’t do anything. But like all hidden pleasures, there is a price to pay, and prosaic realities of the real world to return to.
Feb. 14, 2017 The reasons being given for his resignation are still unclear.
By George Friedman
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser resigned late Monday night. Michael Flynn admitted in his resignation letter to having conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States and providing then Vice President-elect Mike Pence with an incomplete account of those calls. There is speculation that Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador to the United States concerning U.S. sanctions against Russia before Trump’s inauguration. The Washington Post reported that the acting attorney general told Trump last month about the calls and suggested that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
I am missing something here. This isn’t meant to defend Flynn. It just means that I am missing something. There are two things that do not make sense. The first is that Flynn was an intelligence officer in Afghanistan and Iraq and at one point was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn knows intelligence. It is a stretch to believe that Flynn could have placed himself in a position to be blackmailed by the Russians. This is because there is no way Flynn didn’t himself know that phone calls he had with representatives of Russia or another foreign government were monitored. There is something mysterious in this; we still do not have clarity over precisely what happened.
The second reason this doesn’t make sense is that talking to the Russian ambassador by itself would not have been grounds for dismissal or resignation. Under the Logan Act, which dates to 1799, it is illegal for someone not in the U.S. government to conduct foreign policy negotiations with a foreign power on behalf of the United States. However, no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act. Logan Act or not, private citizens are constantly engaged in conversations with foreign officials. Frequently, the conversation has some substance that might be transmitted back to a government official he might know. He might wind up as a go-between – not authorized to negotiate, but nevertheless negotiating. The issue here is not necessarily that Flynn had contact with the Russian ambassador. It is that Flynn did not accurately portray the contents of their conversation.
Consider this. Anyone named to the post of national security adviser knows numerous officials from foreign governments. It is a job requirement. Before an election, he is simply a private citizen, as free as anyone else to speak to foreign officials within the limits of the Logan Act, which is never enforced but widely violated.
After an election, the president-elect is not yet the president and cannot speak for the U.S. government, nor can anyone he may have announced who will be a government official. But there is a difference between negotiating on behalf of the government and opening channels with foreign countries in anticipation of becoming part of the government. The idea that there should be no contacts whatsoever would mean that the new president would be starting from square one rather than hitting the ground running.
There is a famous but not fully confirmed example. In 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis, representatives of Ronald Reagan made contact with the Iranian government to discuss the timing of the hostages’ release. Contacts supposedly were made before and after that year’s election. What transpired in those discussions is disputed, but it is almost certain that conversations happened. Apart from this, it would be shocking for an incoming team not to have informal discussions with allies and major adversaries. It would be understood, of course, that the interlocutors did not speak for the U.S. government and could make no commitments.
Therefore, I would expect the national security adviser to have introductory conversations from the moment his appointment was announced and give some indication of the direction in which the new administration might go. Allies like the United Kingdom and Canada would expect a sense of the president-elect’s thinking.
Flynn’s case is obviously different, particularly because Trump withdrew his support from Flynn. That is not the president’s style. The reason for this is the part I am missing and the thing that makes it more than a minor Washington scandal. Whatever Flynn did, it appears that his actions went well beyond the norms.
Flynn had phone conversations with the Russian ambassador. It is likely that sanctions were discussed: In any discussion with a U.S. national security adviser, this topic would be raised by the Russian ambassador. The two supposedly had several phone conversations on the same day, which makes it somewhat more uncomfortable, simply because the reason to have more than one discussion was for both sides to consult their superiors. And that goes beyond merely opening doors to something substantive. But it’s still not enough for this type of crisis. As with Reagan’s people, substance is sometimes discussed.
In trying to understand what might have happened, we should consider Flynn’s main focus. Flynn had been head of military intelligence in Afghanistan. At the Defense Intelligence Agency and in a book he published, these were primary concerns. The president indicated that a key foreign policy goal was to crush Islamic State. It was also clear that this could only be achieved through a coalition, and Flynn indicated that Russian participation in the war on IS would be beneficial. The Russians have their own problems with jihadis, so in Flynn’s mind there was a natural split. It followed that the minimal price Russia would ask in joining the war was suspension of the sanctions and, in all likelihood, concessions on Ukraine.
When Flynn visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin two years ago, it is likely that as a private citizen he expressed these views to Putin. Flynn would not have to be bribed by the Russians as some analysts think. An American-Russian coalition working together to crush IS, and perhaps even the Taliban, was already on Flynn’s mind. He saw the Islamist wars as the greatest challenge to the United States, and he knew the U.S. needed help. He regarded sanctions and even some concessions on Ukraine to be a small price to pay to get it.
Trump’s administration is divided on this. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both have announced support for continued sanctions, and Mattis named Russia as a key adversary. In other words, two foreign policies were emanating from the Trump administration. One tracked former President Barack Obama’s strategy of two adversaries, while the other – Flynn’s – had a single main adversary: It was all about Islam.
Undoubtedly, Flynn floated this in Moscow years ago. When he was appointed national security adviser, the discussion began in earnest. The problem was not that he was bought by the Russians, but rather that in his obsession with IS, he failed to keep his own team aware of what he was talking about with the Russians. That is far more likely than having a secret arrangement with the Russians, because if he did, the Russians would not have let him make multiple phone calls in one day. He’d be too valuable to burn like that.
My guess is that he thought he had a green light on this, or simply thought that as a national security adviser, his job was to make strategy. When Mattis and Tillerson got wind of it – because all calls to Russian officials in Washington are intercepted – they blocked him.
The real problem is not that he spoke to the Russians or visited Moscow. There was no secret deal. Rather, the problem was that he tried to execute a radical shift in strategy that was actively opposed by senior officials. When they heard what Flynn was doing, they went ballistic. To put it another way, Trump shut down an attempt by Flynn to bring the Russians into the IS war. And Putin did not escape the sanctions.
I was in Dubai this weekend, had many conversations and said many things that addressed sensitive issues. Everyone understood that I spoke for no one but myself. If someone were mad enough to give me an official position (and I were mad enough to accept it), all the things I said when I didn’t matter would be remembered by decision-makers. All that would be fine unless I tried to execute a policy without asking anyone. I think, but don’t know, that this is what happened to Flynn.
Enrolling for the Affordable Care Act, Miami, USA. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
It’s difficult to enter a room nowadays without being dragged into a discussion about the latest Trump controversy: the Muslim ban, the Wall, the links to Russia, yet another attack on the media.
While these are, of course, matters of great concern, there is one issue on Trump’s agenda which towers above everything else in terms of its importance to millions of ordinary Americans – and its potential toxicity. That issue is, of course, Obamacare.
During his campaign, Trump’s denunciations of Obama’s landmark healthcare reform won him a great deal of praise. He revelled in calling it a “disaster”, due to the costs it imposed on businesses and consumers, and promised its repeal as soon as he got to office.
Tom Price, Trump’s newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary, has been champing at the bit to assign Obamacare to history – as have many other conservatives, including Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Ted Cruz. They see the health bill as an affront to personal freedom, and want to take American healthcare in a radically new direction.
Yet many moderate Republicans are having second thoughts about their President’s zeal in pushing for repeal as soon as possible. Various reports have surfaced of GOP members of Congress raising concerns about their constituents being left without insurance.
Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, once a fervent supporter of repealing the Affordable Care Act, recently voted against a measure kicking off the repeal process, explaining: “We’re playing with live rounds this time.”
The fast-track “repeal and replace” faction have, admittedly, been bolstered by the pounding which Obamacare’s reputation has received in recent weeks and months.
On Wednesday, Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, one of America’s largest health insurers, claimed that the exchanges on which Obamacare is bought and sold were in a “death spiral”. The problem is that younger and healthier consumers are opting out of coverage, leaving insurers are struggling with low demand and high prices. Fellow health insurer Humana has announced its withdrawal from the ACA’s state-based insurance marketplaces for 2018, and Aetna may follow.
Clearly, there are huge problems with the system. As well as the difficulties with the exchanges, the ACA has struggled to halt soaring drug prices.
Yet according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan federal agency, about 18 million people would lose or drop their health insurance in the first year if it were repealed, and health care premiums would shoot up. This is based on a repeal law passed in the House last year, which includes keeping some of Obamacare’s most popular provisions.
The truth is that Obamacare was never going to be perfect instantaneously. The Act is the most significant change to American healthcare since Medicare under Lyndon B Johnson. It had to struggle through a hyper-partisan Congress and numerous court challenges – not to mention the huge, unwieldy and expensive nature of the American healthcare system that it has been attempting to change.
And while some criticisms of the ACA are justified, many are completely unfounded. For example, the exchanges, which are discussed disproportionately, only actually affect 3 per cent of the US population. A third of Americans aren’t even aware that “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act” are the same thing. And a survey last year by the Commonwealth Fund found that three out of four consumers were actually satisfied with its provisions.
Meanwhile, crazy rumours have spread which say Obamacare contains a provision that everyone over the age of 74 has to go in front of a “death panel”. It is a blatant lie, but one that a 2015 poll found was believed by 26 per cent of Republicans and 12 per cent of Democrats.
Partly, this is about politics. As the name suggests, “Obamacare” represents Obama’s biggest legacy as President, and there is nothing the GOP would like more than to tear that down as soon as possible. Yet the ACA was actually modelled on “Romneycare”, healthcare reforms initiated by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, which saw the number of uninsured residents drop from 6 per cent in 2006 to 2 per cent in 2010.
The Republicans understandably have concerns about the way Obamacare expanded the government’s role in healthcare. But it has also expanded health coverage to about 20 million uninsured people, and saved the lives of many thousands who were previously uninsured. The ACA provides insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions; brings people under 26 onto their parents’ insurance plans; prevents gender-based discrimination; and gives substantial benefits to the 170 million Americans on employer-based coverage.
In short, if they simply tear it down, the Republicans will find themselves with a lot of angry people, many of them in red states as well as blue.
So where do they go from here? There are lots of ideas flying around, including the sale of insurance across state lines, and increased personal control over doctors and insurance plans. But many of these alternatives would still see people stripped of ther coverage – Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” plan, for example, would see four million Americans lose out. That’s hard to square with Trump’s promise of “insurance for everybody”.
During the campaign, and up until mid-January, Trump had backed plans to tackle America’s astronomical drug prices by getting drug companies to bid for contracts, with Medicaid negotiating bulk discounts. America’s fragmented purchasing system encourages price hikes, and a move towards collective buying is needed badly. Yet a few weeks later, those plans were dropped after he met with pharmaceutical industry representatives.
Obamacare has problems which need to be fixed. Yet even if repeal is the best solution, politicians need to be honest about the pros and cons of the current system, and of the potential replacements.
Healthcare dominated Obama’s presidency. Given the pivotal decision Trump now faces, it could well define his premiership too.
Jack Graham is a political commentator who specialises in American politics
is an assistant professor in the Tilburg Center for Logic, Ethics, and Philosophy of Science, and in the Department of Philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. His research interests include the philosophy of cognitive science, moral psychology and the philosophy of science.
Edited by Sam Dresser
When I was about four years old, I asked my mother one of my first ‘Why?’ questions: ‘Mom, why does Pippo live underwater?’ Mom explained that Pippo, our goldfish, was a fish, and fish live underwater. This answer left me unsatisfied, so I kept enquiring: ‘Why do fish live underwater? Can’t we also live underwater?’ Mom replied that fish breathe by extracting oxygen from the water around them; people cannot breathe underwater. I then asked an apparently unrelated one: ‘What is ice made of?’ ‘Ice is made of water, Matteo.’ Two days later, Pippo was found in our freezer.
Like most four-year-olds, I was surprised by the things happening around me. As soon as I began speaking, I was asking about why things happen. This often annoyed the grown-ups. But when they were willing to answer my questions, their explanations helped me figure out what would happen, had things been different. My conclusions were badly off sometimes (as poor Pippo found out to his cost). Nevertheless, mistakes and explanations guided my discovery of the world: I was doing science before I went to school, and I was enjoying it too.
What is a good explanation? And how can we find out? Philosophers of science have traditionally answered these questions by concentrating on the norms governing scientists’ explanatory practice, evaluating these norms on the basis of their intuitions on a battery of cases involving putative explanations.
Starting with the work of Carl G Hempel in the 1960s, philosophers of science have articulated three main models of explanation. According to Hempel’s covering-law model, explanations are arguments demonstrating that what is being explained logically follows from some general law. By the covering-law model, if one asks: ‘Why does a certain flagpole cast a shadow that is 10 metres long?’, a good answer should cite the laws of optics, the height of the flagpole, and the angle of the Sun in the sky. This explanation is good because it ‘shows that, given the particular circumstances and the laws in question, the occurrence of the phenomenon was to be expected’.
Another approach is the unificationist model, which says that good explanations provide a unified account that can be comprehensively applied to many different phenomena. Newton’s theory of gravity and Darwin’s theory of evolution are lovely explanations because they enjoy a great unifying power. These theories appeal again and again to a few basic principles that can account for a great many phenomena. Thereby, unifying theories reduce to a minimum the number of what the biologist Thomas Huxley in 1896 called ‘fundamental incomprehensibilities’.
The causal mechanical model is perhaps the most popular among philosophers. It says that good explanations reveal organised component parts and activities that make things happen. If one asks: ‘Why did that window break?’, a good answer is: ‘Because someone threw a rock at it.’ Or if one asks: ‘How does blood reach every part of the body?’, a good answer should include information about the heart, the blood vessels of the circulatory system, and their functions.
These models capture the form of many good explanations. However, philosophers should not assume that there is only one true model of explanation, and that a decision must be made about which model tells us what a good explanation really is. That is, many assume that a single, ‘one-size’ explanatory model fits all areas of enquiry. This assumption means that philosophers have often ignored the psychology of explanatory reasoning.
Giving a good answer to a ‘Why?’ question is not just a philosophical abstraction. An explanation has cognitive, real-world functions. It promotes learning and discovery, and good explanatory theories are vital to smoothly navigating the environment. In this sense, an explanation is what is known as a speech act, which is an utterance that serves a certain function in communication. Evaluating when someone successfully performs this speech act should take account of the psychology of explanatory reasoning and its subtle context sensitivity. Wonderful work in the psychology of explanation shows that laws, unification and causal mechanisms all have a place in human psychology, tracking distinct concepts that get triggered depending on one’s audience, interests, background beliefs and social environment.
Results from psychology also expose a striking similarity between children’s and scientists’ explanatory reasoning. Both children and scientists look out in the world, trying to find patterns, searching for surprising violations of those patterns, and attempting to make sense of them based on explanatory and probabilistic considerations. Children’s explanatory practices offer unique insight into the nature of good explanation.
Models of explanation should be calibrated on data about actual explanatory practice from psychology, but also from the history and sociology of science. The same conclusion applies to other traditional topics studied by philosophers of science like confirmation, theory change, and scientific discovery, where all too often abstract philosophical theorising obfuscates the cognitive foundations of science. Empirically grounded studies of explanation are clearly telling us something important about how people explain, what they find explanatorily valuable, and how explanatory practices change over one’s lifetime. If every child is a natural-born scientist, philosophers of science would do well to pay more attention to the psychology of explanation, and particularly to children’s ‘Why?’ questions and explanatory reasoning. They will get a more nuanced understanding of what makes for a good explanation.
is a philosopher of science and postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge, UK. He is a founder of, and regular contributor to, Extinct, the philosophy of palaeontology blog.
teaches philosophy at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, where he is also associate director of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment. He is a founding editor and contributor to Extinct, the palaeontology blog.
Edited by Sally Davies
The coelacanths are an ancient group of lobe-finned fishes, with weird appendages that take the form of bony, fleshy, muscular stalks. They’re well-represented in the fossil record all the way back to the Devonian period, some 390 million years ago. However, about 66 million years ago – the time of the dinosaurs’ demise – coelacanths disappear completely. It looked like they went extinct. Then, in 1938, someone caught a coelacanth in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa.
The lesson here is that the absence of evidence – in this case, the lack of coelacanth fossils – is not the same as evidence of an absence. Take a kookier example. There’s a subculture of ‘cryptozoologists’ who believe that populations of pterodactyls are hiding out in remote parts of the globe, such as Papua New Guinea or the Brazilian rainforest. Pterosaurs, too, disappeared from the fossil record around 66 million years ago, and there is no proof that any of them exist today. Should we apply the same test as for the coelacanths? Or in this case, for some reason, does the absence of evidence amount to the same thing as the evidence of an absence?
Figuring out the meaning of these gaps is notoriously difficult when you study the deep past. The ‘historical sciences’ of geology, archaeology and palaeontology deal with sedimented layers of matter, much of which has been destroyed or degraded over time. It can’t be reconstructed on a lab-bench or in a particle accelerator. In response to this challenge, palaeontologists perform a kind of scientific jujitsu. They treat the blank spots in the fossil record as evidence of something in and of themselves.
Consider the idea that evolutionary changes are slow and cumulative, a theory known as Darwinian Gradualism. The fossil record contains some lovely specimens that point to gradual evolutionary change à la Darwin. But more often than not, a certain type of fossil just shows up in the rock strata, persists for a while as it is, and then disappears. Should we take the absence of proof of gradual change as evidence of the fact that evolution is not gradual?
Darwin himself lost sleep over this problem. He eventually decided that the absence of evidence of gradual change is not, in itself, evidence of the absence of gradualism. Instead, he attributed the gaps to the record’s incompleteness. Yet this move had the unintended effect of relegating palaeontology to the sidelines. If palaeontologists study fossils, and if the fossil record is too full of holes to tell us about evolution, then palaeontologists must have little to contribute to our understanding of the process.
Fast forward to the next century. In the 1970s, the biologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould argued that the lack of proof of gradualism is itself an informational signal. ‘Stasis is data,’ they claimed. If the fossil record contains periods where nothing changes, that’s because nothing, in fact, has changed. The lack of evidence of gradual evolution is simply telling us that there wasn’t much of it going on. Instead, they suggested that evolution happened by way of rapid bursts of change before reaching a plateau, a theory they called ‘punctuated equilibrium’.
In the ensuing debate, the ‘gradualists’ shot back with the claim that history was covering its tracks: that the lack of slow transformation in the fossil record pointed to the rarity of successful fossilisation. Those in favour of Eldredge and Gould’s idea about sudden jumps in evolution, meanwhile, considered absences as indicators of biological reality. They wanted scientists to take stasis in the fossil record at face value. Either way, absences matter.
Let’s look at a more recent episode from dinosaur palaeontology. Both Triceratops and Torosaurus lived in what is now western North America near the end of the Cretaceous period. Torosaurus was bigger and had a longer frill on its head, which sported openings or ‘fenestrae’. Compare their skulls:
Since being discovered in the late 19th century, the two dinosaurs have been put into different biological categories. The animals were considered close relatives, but each belonged to a different genus, the rank of classification above species.
In 2010, the palaeontologists John Scannella and John Horner challengedthis consensus with the so-called ‘Toroceratops’ hypothesis. They argued that Torosaurus and Triceratops were really the same kind of animal, and that the differences were just a question of the creature’s age. As individuals grew up, they got bigger, their frills got longer, and they developed holes. According to this view, a Torosaurus is just a grown-up Triceratops.
Where’s the proof? Scannella and Horner observed that we have a lot more Triceratops skeletons than Torosaurus ones, and that bone tissue analysis of the Torosaurs suggested that they were all older, mature adults. On the other hand, some of the bountiful Triceratops specimens are smaller juveniles and young adults. This raises the question: where are all the young Torosaurs? In response, Scannella and Horner conclude that the absence of baby Torosaurs is evidence that there simply weren’t any. (It should be noted that Scanella and Horner’s work is highly speculative, and there is still a lot of disagreement about what the final fate of their hypothesis will be.)
Interpreting fossils that aren’t there comes with its own peculiar challenges, and these gaps and ghosts that haunt the fossil record are a big part of palaeontology’s allure. In dinosaur palaeontology, sample sizes are often small, and the challenge is to find creative ways to extract information from fossils. One of the most daring moves of all is to begin treating the fossils we don’t have as data.
The case of the coelacanth and the pterodactyl are similar in one respect. Both fossils have been missing for the past 66 million years. But for pterosaurs, the best explanation is just that the animals went extinct. For the coelacanth, the message is more complex. Accounting for the gap might invoke the small population size, when and how fossilisation occurs in marine environments, and the fact that much of the rock on the ocean floor is quite young. For both creatures, at least one thing is clear: what doesn’t fossilise is often as revealing as what does.
Tony Blair greets supporters outside Downing Street on May 2, 1997. Photo: Michel Gangne / AFP / Getty Images
In a time of division and dissension, it’s comforting to know that there’s one thing around which Britain can unite – namely, hating Tony Blair.
Yesterday, the former Prime Minister intervened in the Brexit debate, with a speech urging the people to “rise up” against the referendum result and prevent Britain leaving the European Union. It’s fair to say it didn’t go down well. As Andrew Lilico observed on CapX, it’s one thing to say that that voters made a mistake, and quite another to call for their decision to be disregarded.
But it’s not just Blair’s opinions that people don’t like. They don’t like him, full stop. Back in November, YouGov asked a sample of voters for their views on a host of political figures. The findings on Blair were, to put it politely, brutal.
The man who won three elections is now less popular than Jeremy Corbyn – less popular, in fact, than anyone listed apart from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Blair is regarded “very favourably” by only 2 per cent of the population. Three quarters of the population have a very or somewhat negative view of him and just one in seven a positive one.
And the remarkable thing is the way this crosses demographic boundaries. Rich or poor, young or old, English or Scots, Remain or Leave – there is no group in which Blair has anything approaching a base of support. As you might expect, he scores highest among Labour voters. But even there, twice as many actively hate him as in any way like him.
There are all kinds of reasons for this. Blair led us into war in Iraq on false pretences – either out of wilful blindness or a cynical desire to keep in with the Americans.
He opened the door to unrestricted immigration, paving the way for the rise of Ukip and ultimately the Brexit vote. The boom years over which he presided ended shortly afterwards in a spectacular bust.
And aside from his futile efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, he spent his post-premiership living the jet-set lifestyle, occasional descending from Davos to lecture the rest of us on where we were going wrong.
But the collapse in his appeal is still startling and significant.
Startling when you consider quite how popular he was – if you’ve forgotten, just look at this messianic party political broadcast from the 1997 election campaign (and compare it with its Tory equivalent). Even as late as 2010, his autobiography was still a publishing sensation.
And significant because it’s not just Blair who is unpopular, but everything associated with him.
When Tom Bower published his scathing biography of the former PM last year, I asked him whether there was anything positive Blair had done. He thought for a while, then replied: “No.” (Although he did then qualify that by saying that he had made Britain a more tolerant place.)
But uncomfortable as it is for his detractors to admit it, Blair did get many of the big calls right.
He moved the Labour Party away from socialism and towards an embrace of the market. He recognised the value of capitalism and wealth creation. He came, belatedly, to see the need for the introduction of choice and competition into public services to drive up standards, even if he could never get Gordon Brown to agree.
Even before Brexit, I noted how oddly peripheral Blair seemed to be to British politics – not least because the party modernised by Mandelson now had a leader who preferred to quote Enver Hoxha.
Yet we need to be careful not to throw the liberal baby out with the Blairite bathwater. Theresa May has, as George Trefgarne pointed out on CapX, brought stability and discipline to government. But as Matt Chorley noted for the Times (£), she is a doer, not a sayer – a workhorse (in the New York Times’s phrase), not a show pony.
Those polling figures suggest that whatever Tony Blair tries to sell, there are few who will now listen.
But politics still needs its evangelists – people who can make the case, as Blair did at his best, for the kind of liberal economics and policies that will make Britain, and the world, a better place. Especially if the alternative is a situation in which the most charismatic figures are those with the worst ideas.
This article is taken from CapX’s Weekly Briefing.
is the Robert H Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of economics and history at Northwestern University in Illinois. In 2006, he was awarded the biennial Heineken Award for History offered by the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. His latest book is A Culture of Growth: Origins of the Modern Economy (2016).
Edited by Sam Haselby
How and why did the modern world and its unprecedented prosperity begin? Learned tomes by historians, economists, political scientists and other scholars fill many bookshelves with explanations of how and why the process of modern economic growth or ‘the Great Enrichment’ exploded in western Europe in the 18th century. One of the oldest and most persuasive explanations is the long political fragmentation of Europe. For centuries, no ruler had ever been able to unite Europe the way the Mongols and the Mings had united China.
It should be emphasised that Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture. It was rather what is known as a classical emergent property, a complex and unintended outcome of simpler interactions on the whole. The modern European economic miracle was the result of contingent institutional outcomes. It was neither designed nor planned. But it happened, and once it began, it generated a self-reinforcing dynamic of economic progress that made knowledge-driven growth both possible and sustainable.
How did this work? In brief, Europe’s political fragmentation spurred productive competition. It meant that European rulers found themselves competing for the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans. The economic historian Eric L Jones called this ‘the States system’. The costs of European political division into multiple competing states were substantial: they included almost incessant warfare, protectionism, and other coordination failures. Many scholars now believe, however, that in the long run the benefits of competing states might have been larger than the costs. In particular, the existence of multiple competing states encouraged scientific and technological innovation.
The idea that European political fragmentation, despite its evident costs, also brought great benefits, enjoys a distinguished lineage. In the closing chapter of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1789), Edward Gibbon wrote: ‘Europe is now divided into 12 powerful, though unequal, kingdoms.’ Three of them he called ‘respectable commonwealths’, the rest ‘a variety of smaller, though independent, states’. The ‘abuses of tyranny are restrained by the mutual influence of fear and shame’, Gibbon wrote, adding that ‘republics have acquired order and stability; monarchies have imbibed the principles of freedom, or, at least, of moderation; and some sense of honour and justice is introduced into the most defective constitutions by the general manners of the times.’
In other words, the rivalries between the states, and their examples to one another, also meliorated some of the worst possibilities of political authoritarianism. Gibbon added that ‘in peace, the progress of knowledge and industry is accelerated by the emulation of so many active rivals’. Other Enlightenment writers, David Hume and Immanuel Kant for example, saw it the same way. From the early 18th-century reforms of Russia’s Peter the Great, to the United States’ panicked technological mobilisation in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, interstate competition was a powerful economic mover. More important, perhaps, the ‘states system’ constrained the ability of political and religious authorities to control intellectual innovation. If conservative rulers clamped down on heretical and subversive (that is, original and creative) thought, their smartest citizens would just go elsewhere (as many of them, indeed, did).
Apossible objection to this view is that political fragmentation was not enough. The Indian subcontinent and the Middle East were fragmented for much of their history, and Africa even more so, yet they did not experience a Great Enrichment. Clearly, more was needed. The size of the ‘market’ that intellectual and technological innovators faced was one element of scientific and technological development that has not perhaps received as much attention it should. In 1769, for example, Matthew Boulton wrote to his partner James Watt: ‘It is not worth my while to manufacture [your engine] for three counties only; but I find it very well worth my while to make it for all the world.’
What was true for steam engines was equally true for books and essays on astronomy, medicine and mathematics. Writing such a book involved fixed costs, and so the size of the market mattered. If fragmentation meant that the constituency of each innovator was small, it would have dampened the incentives.
In early modern Europe, however, political and religious fragmentation did not mean small audiences for intellectual innovators. Political fragmentation existed alongside a remarkable intellectual and cultural unity. Europe offered a more or less integrated market for ideas, a continent-wide network of learned men and women, in which new ideas were distributed and circulated. European cultural unity was rooted in its classical heritage and, among intellectuals, the widespread use of Latin as their lingua franca. The structure of the medieval Christian Church also provided an element shared throughout the continent. Indeed, long before the term ‘Europe’ was commonly used, it was called ‘Christendom’.
If Europe’s intellectuals moved with unprecedented frequency and ease, their ideas travelled even faster
While for much of the Middle Ages the intensity of intellectual activity (in terms of both the number of participants and the heatedness of the debates) was light compared to what it was to become, after 1500 it was transnational. In early modern Europe, national boundaries mattered little in the thin but lively and mobile community of intellectuals in Europe. Despite slow and uncomfortable travel, many of Europe’s leading intellectuals moved back and forth between states. Both the Valencia-born Juan Luis Vives and the Rotterdam-born Desiderius Erasmus, two of the most prominent leaders of 16th-century European humanism, embodied the footloose quality of Europe’s leading thinkers: Vives studied in Paris, lived most of his life in Flanders, but was also a member of Corpus Christi College in Oxford. For a while, he served as a tutor to Henry VIII’s daughter Mary. Erasmus moved back between Leuven, England and Basel. But he also spent time in Turin and Venice. Such mobility among intellectuals grew even more pronounced in the 17th century.
If Europe’s intellectuals moved with unprecedented frequency and ease, their ideas travelled even faster. Through the printing press and the much-improved postal system, written knowledge circulated rapidly. In the relatively pluralistic environment of early modern Europe, especially in contrast with East Asia, conservative attempts to suppress new ideas floundered. The reputation of intellectual superstars such as Galileo and Spinoza was such that, if local censorship tried to prohibit the publication of their works, they could easily find publishers abroad.
Galileo’s ‘banned’ books were quickly smuggled out of Italy and published in Protestant cities. For example, his Discorsi was published in Leiden in 1638, and his Dialogo was re-published in Strasbourg in 1635. Spinoza’s publisher, Jan Riewertz, placed ‘Hamburg’ on the title page of the Tractatus to mislead censors, even though the book was published in Amsterdam. For intellectuals, Europe’s divided and uncoordinated polities enhanced an intellectual freedom that simply could not exist in China or the Ottoman Empire.
After 1500, Europe’s unique combination of political fragmentation and its pan-European institutions of learning brought dramatic intellectual changes in the way new ideas circulated. Books written in one part of Europe found their way to other parts. They were soon read, quoted, plagiarised, discussed and commented upon everywhere. When a new discovery was made anywhere in Europe, it was debated and tested throughout the continent. Fifty years after the publication of William Harvey’s text on the circulation of blood De Motu Cordis (1628), the English doctor and intellectual Thomas Browne reflected on Harvey’s discovery that ‘at the first trump of the circulation all the schools of Europe murmured … and condemned it by a general vote … but at length [it was] accepted and confirmed by illustrious physicians.’
The intellectual superstars of the period catered to a European, not a local, audience and enjoyed continent-wide reputations. They saw themselves as citizens of a ‘Republic of Letters’ and regarded this entity, in the words of the French philosopher Pierre Bayle (one of its central figures), as a free commonwealth, an empire of truth. The political metaphor was mostly wishful thinking and not a little self-flattery, but it expressed the features of a community that set rules of conduct for the market for ideas. It was a very competitive market.
Above all, Europe’s intellectuals contested almost everything, and time and again demonstrated a willingness to slaughter sacred cows. They together established a commitment to open science. To return to Gibbon: he observed that the philosopher, unlike the patriot, was permitted to consider Europe as a single ‘great republic’ in which the balance of power might continue to fluctuate and the prosperity of some nations ‘may be alternately exalted or depressed’. But this apprehension of a single ‘great republic’ guaranteed a ‘general state of happiness, system of arts and laws and manners’. It ‘advantageously distinguished’ Europe from other civilisations, wrote Gibbon.
In this regard, then, Europe’s intellectual community enjoyed the best of two worlds, both the advantages of an integrated transnational academic community and a competitive states system. This system produced many of the cultural components that led to the Great Enrichment: a belief in social and economic progress, a growing regard for scientific and intellectual innovation, and a commitment to a Baconian, ie a methodical and empirically grounded, research programme of knowledge in the service of economic growth. The natural philosophers and mathematicians of the 17th-century Republic of Letters adopted the idea of experimental science as a prime tool, and accepted the use of increasingly more sophisticated mathematics as a method of understanding and codifying nature.
The idea of knowledge-driven economic progress as the primum movens of the Industrial Revolution and early economic growth is still controversial, and rightly so. Examples of purely science-driven inventions in the 18th century are few, though after 1815 their number rises rapidly. Yet dismissing the scientific revolution as irrelevant to modern economic growth misses the point that without an ever-growing understanding of nature, the artisan-driven advances of the 18th century (especially in the textile industry) would slowly but ineluctably have ground to a halt.
Furthermore, some inventions still needed inputs from learned people even if they cannot be said to be purely science-driven. For instance, the marine chronometer, one of the most important inventions of the era of the Industrial Revolution (though rarely mentioned as a part of it) was made possible through the work of earlier mathematical astronomers. The first one was the 16th-century Dutch (more accurately Frisian) astronomer and mathematician Jemme Reinerszoon, known as Gemma Frisius, who suggested the possibility of what John Harrison (the ingenious watchmaker who cracked this thorny problem) actually did in 1740.
The triumph of scientific progress and sustained economic growth was no more predetermined than the evolution of Homo sapiens as dominant on the planet
It is interesting to note that the advances in science were driven not only by the emergence of open science and the growing sophistication of the transnational market for ideas. They were also driven by the appearance of better tools and instruments that facilitated research in natural philosophy. The most important ones include the microscope, telescope, barometer and modern thermometer. All of them were developed in the first half of the 17th century. Improved tools in physics, astronomy and biology refuted many misconceptions inherited from classical antiquity. The newly discovered notions of a vacuum and an atmosphere stimulated the emergence of atmospheric engines. In turn, steam engines inspired scientists to investigate the physics of the conversion of heat into motion. More than a century after Newcomen’s first pump (the famous Dudley Castle engine of 1712), thermodynamics was developed.
In 18th-century Europe, the interplay between pure science and the work of engineers and mechanics became progressively stronger. This interaction of propositional knowledge (knowledge of ‘what’) and prescriptive knowledge (knowledge of ‘how’) constituted a positive feedback or autocatalytic model. In such systems, once the process gets underway, it can become self-propelled. In that sense, knowledge-based growth is one of the most persistent of all historical phenomena – though the conditions of its persistence are complex and require above all a competitive and open market for ideas.
We must recognise that Europe’s (and the world’s) Great Enrichment was in no way inevitable. With fairly minor changes in initial conditions, or even accidents along the way, it might never have happened. Had political and military developments taken different turns in Europe, conservative forces might have prevailed and taken a more hostile attitude toward the new and more progressive interpretation of the world. There was nothing predetermined or inexorable in the ultimate triumph of scientific progress and sustained economic growth, any more than, say, in the eventual evolution of Homo sapiens (or any other specific species) as dominant on the planet.
One outcome of the activities in the market for ideas after 1600 was the European Enlightenment, in which the belief in scientific and intellectual progress was translated into an ambitious political programme, a programme that, despite its many flaws and misfires, still dominates European polities and economies. Notwithstanding the backlash it has recently encountered, the forces of technological and scientific progress, once set in motion, might have become irresistible. The world today, after all, still consists of competing entities, and seems not much closer to unification than in 1600. Its market for ideas is more active than ever, and innovations are occurring at an ever faster pace. Far from all the low-hanging technological fruits having been picked, the best is still to come.